For the longest time I’ve been wanting Google to bring all of their services together into some sort of unified interface. A place where I could read my email, manage my calendar, catch up on news in my RSS feeds, search for a place on a map, and so on. Just one central page that does it all so that I only need one tab open to have access to all that information.
Even though Google hasn’t brought everything together themselves it’s still possible to do on your own, but only if you’re a Firefox user. Thanks to an extension called Integrated Gmail you can bring all of your Google services plus any third-party sites right into your Inbox. As seen in the screenshot to the right I’ve got everything I want fast access to in a series of expandable boxes. I can pick and choose the order that I want them in, add whatever sites I want (such as Pandora for streaming music), and I can also add Google gadgets.
There are a few nice interface designs that demonstrated to me the detail the designer put into this. For one the Gmail and Google Reader icons both show the unread counts on them so that even if they aren’t expanded you’ll still know when you have new items.
You might be thinking to yourself that having the unread count on the Gmail icon doesn’t really matter because you can always see it in the sidebar. Well, that’s where the other nice touch comes in. In the bottom-left corner of the screen you’ll see the green arrow that can be used to collapse the sidebar. This is awesome for anyone working on a small netbook screen so that you can maximize your precious viewing area. The cherry on top is that you can also collapse the header thereby maximizing your vertical space as well. It’s a minimalist’s dream.
I’d like to see something like this come out of Gmail Labs, but I’m doubtful anything they’d release would match some of the features this has. They surely wouldn’t let you add third-party sites, because that could mean you’d add another email service like Yahoo! Mail to your Gmail Inbox. At any rate this Firefox extension will serve me well until Google figures out some sort of plan.
Integrated Gmail Homepage (Firefox only; freeware)